Saturday, August 20, 2022

The ridiculous idea that Trump is losing his grip on the GOP

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Shreya Christina
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In recent weeks, there has been rampant speculation in the American press that Donald Trump’s grip on the Republican Party could be loosening — particularly citing the fallout from the committee of January 6an apparent gap with the Murdoch media empireand the rise of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a plausible alternative.

This speculation seems to affect the public: Predictit, a political gambling market, now gives Trump and DeSantis almost equal opportunities to be the Republican presidential candidate in 2024.

But there is more than a hint of wishful thinking in these musings, an almost intentional forgetting of the many past times when predictions of Trump’s downturn proved wrong. Tuesday’s Republican primary results felt like a rough reminder of reality: In elections in five statesincluding the swing states of Arizona and Michigan, Trump loyalists won the vote up and down.

in arizona, Senate nominee Blake Masters and likely gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake are Trump-approved 2020 election deniers In Michigan, gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon is… cut from a similar fabric. Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer, one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in 2021, lost his bid for reelection against another Trump-approved Big Lie supporter (two other supporters of the House impeachment, Washington representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dan Newhouse, appeared to be on their way to fending off Trump-backed challengers in Washington State open primary). Rusty Bowers, the Arizona House speaker and star witness to the committee on Jan. 6, lost a state Senate primary to — you guessed it — a Trump-backed election conspirator.

It’s a splash of cold water on the Trump waning story.

“Pundits trying to establish a GOP that has surpassed them are going way beyond the facts,” the Atlantic Ocean Ron Brownstein wrote Wednesday morning. “This remains a Trump-focused GOP, with most openly embracing him and almost no one openly confronting him.”

Brownstein is right. And he’s right for a fundamental reason: Trump’s take on politics, a war between real Americans and a system that has betrayed them, describes how much Republican voters see the world. And as long as Trump is available, they probably won’t opt ​​for impersonations.

The numbers are clear: it’s still Trump’s party

The simplest barometer for determining whether Trump still dominates the party is the 2024 presidential polls. And by that yardstick, Trump’s hold is pretty hard to question.

The RealClearPolitics Poll Average Trump is in the lead with an average of 26.2 points. All but one of the national polls cataloged by FiveThirtyEight in July Trump had beaten DeSantis by an equally large margin of two figures (the lone outlier, from Suffolk University, had Trump a mere “just” 9 point lead).

Admittedly, a challenger to an incumbent like Trump probably wouldn’t appear on many voters’ radars that far before an election. But much of the “Trump slips” coverage ignores all of this essential context. For example, the New York Times recently ran an op-ed in which Siena College headlined “Half of GOP voters ready to leave Trump behind, poll shows.” Indeed, the poll found that 51 percent of Republicans would vote for someone other than Trump if the primaries were held today.

However, the headline is misleading. The Times poll found that Trump still had 49 percent support in the party; his next closest rival, DeSantis, got just 25 percent. In the article, reporter Michael Bender notes that the results show that “Mr. Trump maintains his primacy in the party,” contradicted the piece’s headline.

Much has also been made of the apparent turn against Trump in Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. In recent weeks, the Murdoch-owned New York Post and Wall Street Journal have both published feature articles criticizing Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. “It’s been over 100 days since Donald J. Trump was interviewed on Fox News,” the New York Times reported, noting that DeSantis appeared to have taken the large guest slot Trump once occupied.

But we’ve been here before. Remember when Fox famously went to war against Trump in the 2016 primaries, culminating in a fight between Trump and Megyn Kelly? We know how that ended.

Murdoch, as Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan states:, is driven by cold calculation: His properties will only dump Trump if it doesn’t alienate their audience and cost them money. He will not be leading the Republican Party against Trump, despite his reported personal distaste for the man, but will instead take the direction he gets from his readers and viewers. That’s why Fox finally joined Trump in 2016, stayed with him throughout his presidency, and is unlikely to actually abandon him with no clear signs the grassroots has moved on.

And so far, there’s little evidence they have. The stats used to suggest Trump is in eclipse — such as a survey showing that only a majority of Republicans (rather than a supermajority) believe the 2020 election has been stolen, or DeSantis do strong fundraising numbers — appear to pale in comparison to more direct measures of its support, such as peer polls and the success of his endorsements in 2022 contest primaries.

At this point, it would be foolish to treat Trump as anything but the leader of the party — and the priceless favorite to win the Republican nomination in 2024.

The Trumpian Soul of the GOP

If you read studies of the American conservative movement, Trump’s continued strength should come as no surprise. The political strength of the movement never came from its policy ideas. Many of his views, such as tax cuts for the rich and strict abortion restrictions, ultimately proved extremely unpopular.

Instead, its strength is rooted in grievances: the bitterness of those who believe that modern America is changing too quickly and beyond recognition, turning “traditional” citizens into aliens in their own countries.

A charitable observer might call this sentiment nostalgia for a bygone America. A more critical one might call it venting reactionary white male anger against a more egalitarian country. But whatever your assessment, it is this politics of cultural grievances that animates the GOP base.

And no one can channel it better than Donald Trump.

At the heart of Trump’s success was the ability to tap into the sense of loss – “Make American Great” Again– and direct that anger against the traditional GOP elite, Democrats, minorities, and even the US electoral system itself. His fame and charisma – two qualities that Ron DeSantis lacks – have enabled him to develop an unparalleled personal connection with this segment of the electorate.

And it is this connection that has proven time and again that predictions of Trump’s downturn are premature.

There have been many such predictions. From practically the moment he glided down Trump Tower’s golden escalators to launch his campaign, pundits have identified events they thought would break him: the gross insults thrown at John McCain in 2015the Access to Hollywood Tape in 2016the “very fine people” Charlottesville commentary in 2017the Democratic midterm wave in 2018the Mueller Inquiry and Report in 2019the failed coronavirus response in 2020the January 6th attack in 2021. Each time, observers predicted that this was the beginning of the end for Trump — that his supporters or the Republican leadership would abandon him, leading to the destruction of his political career.

But despite such setbacks, Trump has maintained his grip on the party. When faced with the most undeniable setback of all, his defeat in the 2020 election, he simply chose to lie and say he had won — and the Republicans decided, by overwhelming margins, to believe him. He unleashed a genuine rebellion against the Capitol and his supporters still see him as the patriot par excellence.

The broad coalition of people opposing Trump’s attack on American democracy — Democrats, Independents, Never Trump Republicans — must rid itself of the naive notion that elite conservatives, especially the Republican leadership and Fox News C-suite, will somehow put an end to the threat. At this point, it’s not clear that they really want it — and that they might not be able to, even if they tried.

There is a demand-side problem in American politics that many have chosen not to really grapple with. Trump may have lost in 2020, but his 74 million votes are the second most in US history (Biden’s 81 million is number 1). That 74 million is 10 million more than he got in 2016. Millions of people who didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 saw what he’d done to the country in four years and said, “I want more of that, please.”

That alone is enough to make the Republican elites hesitate to abandon him. And if you narrow the gap to internal Republican dynamism, the picture is even more dire: The party and activist bases are dominated by seasoned Trumpists, the sort of people Peter Meijer just kicked out of office. Republicans who turn against him, even those as influential and benevolent as Rep. Liz Cheney, risk total marginalization within the party.

It is not impossible that Trump’s numbers will shift permanently and that he will eventually be supplanted by DeSantis or a similar figure. But all our experience with the Trump phenomenon suggests that this is unlikely at best – and even if it does happen, it will be less of a defenestration of Trump and more of someone else figuring out a way to take up his mantle without knocking him down outright. to point.

“‘Trump’s grip on the GOP is waning’ discourse completely misses the point,” writes Sarah Longwell, a pollster and prominent Never Trump conservative. “Trump the man may lose height, but the forces he unleashed have overtaken the entire party. Trump may leave, but a GOP full of lunatics and conspirators will be his lasting legacy.”

But it is for this reason that Trump is unlikely to slip the man. At the moment, no one has figured out how to direct “the forces he has unleashed” as effectively as he has: his personality is an important part of the Trump phenomenon.

Fox News knows this, Mitch McConnell knows this and the establishment knows this. They can signal their hesitation, they can hedge here and there. But they know it’s still Trump’s party. As long as Trump is breathing, there is unlikely to be any Trumpism without him.

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